Microsoft Word has endured many changes over the years. Depending upon whom you ask, some of the changes have been for the better; others, not so much. Throughout all the variations, however, one factor has remained constant: Microsoft has not always made the best choices in choosing some of the default settings.
For example, you might not agree with Microsoft's decision to put your files in My Documents automatically. As a result, just about everyone can benefit from making some easy tweaks to their copies of Word 2007 (the version that is the focus of this article). By changing the program to work the way you want it to, you'll get more work done with less aggravation.
Reveal the Paragraph Marks
One of the first alterations you might want to make is to turn on the paragraph marks, which signal the end of a paragraph with the "¶" symbol. These symbols do not appear when you print a document, but for several reasons it's helpful to have them in your documents.
First, these marks "contain" the formatting for a paragraph, and you can copy and paste a paragraph symbol to copy one paragraph's attributes to another. Similarly, if you delete the symbol, the paragraph will be joined with the next, and take on its attributes. You might not want this result, so being able to see the paragraph mark may help you avoid deleting it by accident. Finally, some people have the bad habit of using paragraph ends to force lines to break where they want them, which can cause a lot of extra work if you later decide to reformat the document with a different font size or line length.
To turn on the paragraph marks, start with the Office button in the upper left corner of the Word window, and choose the Word Options button at the bottom of the window. This will open the Word Options window, which is where you can make most of the customization changes. (In the rest of this article, we'll simply say "open the Word Options window" rather than repeat the instructions on how to open it.)
Choose Display in the left column menu to show the display options. Check the Paragraph marks check box in the section marked "Always show these formatting marks on the screen". Then choose the OK button to accept the change. Now your paragraph marks will show on the screen as you type. Note that this will also show line breaks (which start a new line but not a new paragraph) with an "8" symbol. You can also use the Display options to turn on other handy formatting characters, such as tab symbols.
Put Your Files Where You Want Them
Another niggling problem: By default, Word always puts your new files in the My Documents folder. But you'll likely prefer to save most of your documents to some other folder, depending on how you have your hard drive organized. For example, maybe you write letters that you typically want to save in a Letters folder instead of in My Documents. With the default settings, you must change the destination folder whenever you go to open or save a file. But you can change that easily.
Open the Word Options window, and choose the Save option on the left menu. The top section has the heading "Save documents". In the last line of that section, marked "Default file location", enter the name of the folder that you want to use as the default. In this case, I've entered C:Letters as the new setting, but you can enter any location you like. Choose the OK button when you're satisfied. You can also use the Browse button to navigate around your hard drive and find the folder you want.
While you're on the Save options screen, consider making one other handy change. Starting with Office 2007, Word uses the ".docx" file format by default. This is fine if you never have to share documents with anyone else, or if everyone you work with has Word 2007. But if you have to share your files with people who have older versions of Office, they may not be able to read these files conveniently. In order to give them a format that they can use, you need to remember to use the Save As command and change the Save as type setting to Word 97-2003 document (*.doc) every time you start a new file, so that you save it in the standard .doc file format.
If you always want to create the older file format, you can make it the default choice by opening the Word Options window, and in the "Save options" section, changing the entry for "Save files in this format:". Choose the format you prefer from the drop-down list, such as "Word 97-2003 document (*.doc)". Choose OK, and the next new document you create will be saved using this format by default.
An Extra Ounce of Prevention
Prior versions of Word had a "Fast Saves" feature that fortunately has been eliminated in Word 2007. (The feature resulted in larger files that had a higher chance of becoming corrupted.) One feature that has been retained from past versions, however, is Word's ability to automatically create a backup of a file whenever you save it. This can provide some excellent protection against dumb mistakes, like deleting half of a chapter. For some reason, Microsoft does not turn on the backup feature by default. But with backups turned on, you will always have a copy of the previous version as well as your most recently saved version. (Note that this is not the same as Word's AutoRecover function that only helps you in the event of a system crash or similar event.)
To turn on the backup feature, open the Word Options window, and choose Advanced from the left menu. Then scroll down to the section marked Save, and put a check in the check box for "Always create a backup copy". This change just may save your bacon some day. The only drawback to automatic backups is that they do take up storage space. While this is not a serious problem in today's era of enormous hard drives, you still may want to clean them out from time to time. (Fortunately, these backups use the .wbk file extension, which makes them easier to find.)
Choose a Different Default Font
Word 2007 comes with a bunch of new and attractive fonts, and uses them for some of its default styles. For example, the Normal style by default uses 11-point Calibri, which many people find to be a clean, sans-serif font. But perhaps you prefer a more classical look to your documents--say, a serif font like New Times Roman in 12 point, or perhaps even the typewriter-like monospace Courier New in 12 point. Luckily it's relatively easy to pick another font as the default for your documents.
Start by typing some text in a new document; then select the text. (Ctrl+A will select it all.) Use the Home tab on the Ribbon and change the text to the font settings that you prefer using the boxes in the Font section of the Ribbon. Then right-click the Normal button in the Styles section of the Ribbon, and choose "Update Normal to Match Selection". This will reset the Normal style in this document to your new settings.
Now, the next part may seem a bit strange at first, but hang in there. Change to the View tab on the Ribbon, and click on the top half of the Macros button at the far right of the Ribbon to open the Macros window. Next, choose the Organizer button on the Macros window to open the Organizer window. Then change to the Styles tab. You should see two lists of styles; one for your current document on the left, and one for the Normal.dotm on the right (as shown in the full-size screen shot). Select the Normal style in your current document, and then choose the Copy button.
You will see a message box asking if you want to overwrite the Normal style in the Normal template. Choose Yes, and the default font for your documents will be changed. The next time you start a new Blank document, your new font choice will show up as the Normal style font.
Lose the Wasted Space
Microsoft made another decision about the Normal style that you might want to change. By default, it leaves an extra 10 points of blank space after each new paragraph before the next line starts. If you prefer to have the spacing between paragraphs be single-spaced, just like the lines of text, here's how to make the change.
As before, create a new document and type a bit of text. On the Ribbon, switch to the Page Layout tab. In the section marked Paragraph, under the heading Spacing, change the After setting from 10 to 0. Then use Ctrl-A to select all the text (and the paragraph mark), and then switch back to the Home tab on the Ribbon. Right-click on the Normal style button, and choose "Update Normal to Match Selection". This will change the paragraph spacing for all paragraphs in this document.
Repeat the same steps as for changing the font in the Normal template. Use the View tab on the Ribbon, click on Macros, then Organizer, then the Styles tab. Copy the Normal style from your current document to the Normal template, and confirm your choice when the window appears. Now all your new documents will have single spacing between paragraphs.
It isn't hard to get Word set up to work the way you want, instead of Microsoft's guess at what's best for you. These six tweaks should make your work with Word more efficient. They also serve as an introduction for many of the places where you can easily customize the program to meet your needs. Explore some of the other settings, and you may find ones that can make a big difference.